From Vitale Bramani to technological innovations and environmental impact, join us on a trip into the yellow universe of outdoor safety

Albizzate feels suspended in time; it looks like a typical Varese town, antithetical to the hustle and bustle of nearby Milan. And yet, the essence of this peaceful hamlet is crisscrossed by innovation, technology, and virtuous cutting-edge research that began way back in 1937. That essence continues striving to spread a culture founded on performance, safety, and sustainability. This is the home of Vibram, the visionary company created by Vitale Bramani from his desire to connect with the mountains and nature in all its myriad forms. This is where we find the soul of a global powerhouse that aims for the creation and repair of soles for the outdoors. This is where we find its people.

“Our founder was a great mountaineer. His story begins with a fateful event that shook him to his core. In 1935, while undertaking a route on Punta Rasica with other climbers, extreme weather conditions set in and some never made it home,” says Federico Clerici, Sports&Outdoor Marketing Coordinator. “Bramani set out to study the causes of that tragedy and identified one of the key issues: low-quality material used in shoes. Two years after the accident, thanks to a partnership with Pirelli, rubber was crafted that led to the iconic carrarmato sole. This sole would enter sports history in 1954, applied to the line of Dolomite boots that would climb K2 in the Italian Expedition.”

Specialized publications and technical equipment blend with the personal testimony of those who are part of this family. Together, they give the impression that they represent a philosophy as much as a brand. They move like pieces of a constantly evolving museum dedicated to Vibram’s impact on the relationship between humans and what surrounds, challenges, fascinates, and fulfills them. “We now produce about 300 different models of soles a year. Despite our growing connection with the lifestyle market, we continue focusing on performance and safety. That’s why we test, test and test some more. We seek to guarantee products of the highest quality and to do so, we rely on three complementary phases: lab and related chemical-physical studies, analysis in controlled environments, and testing in real-world situations with our team of athletes and testers.”

When Federico Clerici refers to the pool of athletes linked to Vibram, he implicitly calls on himself and his colleagues. The vast spaces of the Albizzate headquarters swell with athletic energy and expertise. Those who work for Vibram work for their passions, and vice versa. This is the first impression conveyed by the many professional endorsers who turn into outdoor athletes in their spare time. All-round experts, men and women who live for sports, translating personal experiences and feelings into their work.

Emphasizing the concept is Vibram Team Manager Tester Giordano De Vecchi, a scientist constantly searching for the right sole for every surface, slope, and weather condition. Speaking from his office right out of a Marvel movie, populated by state-of-the-art ramps, terrain simulators and data collectors, De Vecchi says, “Our sports knowledge is essential. Our department interacts with external testers daily: every year, we work with about 200 individuals: mountain guides, runners and other athletes. We need to speak their language, process all that feedback, and turn it into new designs and blends”. I’ve been working here for eight years and have seen incredible progress from a technological standpoint. We’ve introduced so many improvements that allow our soles to tackle seemingly unreachable trails. We can match scientific measurements with human perceptions thanks to tests conducted here and in outdoor environments. Subjective assessment of the level of safety is crucial, especially when done by experienced athletes. After all, ‘Testers do it Better’ is the statement that accompanies our work.”

Team Vibram, however, does not limit itself to testing the famous soles with the yellow detail. Victories and broken records are another central chapter of the company and its endorsers: explosions of athletic-technological superiority that, on the one hand, push developers and designers toward continuous improvement and, on the other, bring concrete benefits, as Lorenzo Cogo, Component Design & Development Coordinator, confirms: “It’s a thrill to see athletes win with our soles, such as legends like Kilian Jornet… The final product we watch on television or in the newspapers is something we pour our hearts into for months. That’s why we feel like a part of these endeavors. For our designs, we prioritize functionality, especially in the case of soles used for trail running. Knowing that Vibram runners are using the soles for 400 or 500kms, or even more ensures that we continuously have important statistics to consider.”

Statistics, numbers and prize-winners have not made the Albizzate environment highbrow or elitist. Wading through state-of-the-art laboratories, machinery of all shapes and sizes, colorful rubber molds and expert hands, we notice how genuine Vibram tradition keeps the entire company anchored to the concept of family. On board their unique Mobile Truck, they states, “We feel like all company sectors work together. Vibram is a single block; everyone feels involved. This quality has been inherent in the company from its inception. Our task is to connect a traditional practice to the new course of things. The sole repair market has evolved tremendously over the last few decades, and our products have played a key role in this development. It is no coincidence that part of our work is devoted to teaching. We currently have about 200 certified premium shoemakers on Italian soil, all trained in the repair of Vibram soles. But our courses have branched out all over Europe and other continents, such as Africa and Asia….”

And the resoling practice is all about sustainability. This is another fundamental pillar of the Vibram vision, which we had the opportunity to explore on the occasion of the event organized with NNormal (revolutionary Spanish brand linked to Kilian Jornet) to celebrate the ‘Repair if you Care’ campaign, launched this year. Giving shoes a second life means reducing waste and their impact on the environment, explained Vibram’s Sport Innovation Global Director Jerome Bernard. Giving shoes a second life means providing a service to nature and making concrete steps toward ‘The Sustainable Way’: an integral and constitutive part of Vibram’s thinking, which is expanding worldwide thanks to an increasingly extensive network of specialized shoemakers.

It’s a yellow wave, Vibram’s. It is a propagation of intent and determination stretching to every corner of the globe. Though the historic Albizzate hub remains the beating heart of the brand with the octagonal logo, the entire outdoor universe has become its homeland. A homeland where they export age-old knowledge, sophisticated advancements, and environmental sensitivity: this crucial combination guarantees safety to those who create their own, adrenaline-filled sport experiences in the outdoors, but also to those who are increasingly making the outdoors their own, relaxing, second home. One sole at a time.

Text by Gianmarco Pacione

Photo credits: Riccardo Romani